Rocket Man (song)

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"Rocket Man"
Single by Elton John
from the album Honky Château
B-side "Susie (Dramas)"
Released 14 April 1972 (1972-04-14)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded Château d'Hérouville, Hérouville, France, January 1972
Genre Soft rock, space rock
Length 4:41
Label Uni (US/Canada)
DJM (rest of the world)
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Gus Dudgeon
Elton John singles chronology
"Tiny Dancer"
(1972)
"Rocket Man"
(1972)
"Honky Cat"
(1972)
Music sample

"Rocket Man" is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and originally performed by John. The song echoes the theme of David Bowie's 1969 song "Space Oddity" (both recordings were produced by Gus Dudgeon), but according to an account in Elizabeth Rosenthal's book His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, the song was inspired by Taupin's sighting of either a shooting star or a distant airplane. The account goes on to relate that the notion of astronauts no longer being perceived as heroes, but in fact as an "everyday occupation", led him to the song's opening lines: "She packed my bags last night, pre-flight. Zero hour: 9 a.m. And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then."

The song first appeared on John's 1972 album Honky Château (under the title "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)") and became a hit single, rising to #2 in the UK and #6 in the U.S.

Song information[edit]

The lyrics in the song, inspired by the short story "The Rocket Man" in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, and written by John's longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, describe a Mars-bound astronaut's mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job. Musically, the song is a highly arranged pop ballad anchored by piano, with atmospheric texture added by synthesizer (played on the recording by engineer Dave Hentschel) and processed slide guitar. It is also known for being the first song in John's catalog to feature what would become the signature backing vocal combination of his band at the time, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone.

"Rocket Man" was ranked #242 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was later changed to #245 in the list's 2010 revision.

Another song called "Rocket Man" (and also based on Bradbury's short story "The Rocket Man")[clarification needed] was released by the musical group Pearls Before Swine on their 1970 album The Use of Ashes. In an interview in Billboard magazine, Taupin acknowledged that the song, written by Tom Rapp, had been a direct inspiration for his own lyrics. Rosenthal's account indicates that Rapp's version was inspired by the writings of noted science-fiction author Ray Bradbury. Due to some similarities in Elton John's "Rocket Man," some presume this song might also be an allusion to David Bowie's character Major Tom. Bowie himself made the connection during live performances of "Space Oddity" in which he called out, "Oh, Rocket Man!"[1]

The first stanza of "Rocket Man" was thought of by Bernie Taupin whilst he was on the motorway heading to his parents' home and had to "repeat it to himself for two hours," which he states was "unfortunate" [2] but then later stated in later interviews that since it gave him a hit, it was all worthwhile.

The song has been a staple of John's concerts. Among numerous other performances, John played "Rocket Man" at the launch site of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

The song includes the line, ""And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then". As the website Schmoop commented, "The phrase "high as a kite" is a common idiom almost always used to refer to drug use. There's nothing to suggest that lyricist Bernie Taupin really intended the double entendre, but given that the song came out at the peak of the stoner '70s, what else are we supposed to think?"[3]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

No. Title Length
1. "Rocket Man"   4:38
2. "Suzie (Dramas)"   3:21

In 2003, Universal Records released both a 12-inch vinyl (promotional only) & CD maxi-single with three new remixes of the song:

  • A. "Rocket Man (KDME Remix)" - 4:20
  • B1. "Rocket Man 03" - 4:01
  • B2. "Rocket Man (Royal Garden's Radio Mix)" - 4:19

Of these, "Rocket Man 03" was also included on the Rocket/Island/Mercury EP "Remixed," along with four other remixes of Elton recordings.

Personnel[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart[4] 2
German Singles Chart[5] 18
Irish Singles Chart[6] 6
Italian Singles Chart[7] 6
U.S. Billboard Pop Singles[8] 6
Chart (2008) Peak
position
Norwegian Singles Chart[9] 18

Kate Bush version[edit]

"Rocket Man"
Single by Kate Bush
from the album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin
B-side "Candle in the Wind"
Released 25 November 1991
Format CD, vinyl record (7" and 12"), audio cassette
Genre Reggae, art rock
Length 5:02
Label Mercury
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Kate Bush
Kate Bush singles chronology
Aspects of the Sensual World
(1990)
"Rocket Man"
(1991)
"Rubberband Girl"
(1993)

Kate Bush released a cover of "Rocket Man" in 1991 as part of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. Her reggae-inflected version of "Rocket Man" was a commercial success, reaching #12 on the UK singles chart and #2 in Australia (held off the top spot by Julian Lennon's "Saltwater"). In 2007, the track won The Observer readers' award for Greatest Cover of all time.[10] The B-side of the single was Bush's recording of another Elton John classic, "Candle in the Wind."

From the age of 11, Elton John was my biggest hero. I loved his music, had all his albums and I hoped one day I'd play the piano like him (I still do). When I asked to be involved in this project and was given the choice of a track it was like being asked 'would you like to fulfill a dream? would you like to be Rocket Man?'... yes, I would.

Track listings[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

7" vinyl / Cassette
No. Title Length
1. "Rocket Man"   5:02
2. "Candle in the Wind"   4:29
12" vinyl / CD
No. Title Length
1. "Rocket Man"   5:02
2. "Candle in the Wind"   4:29
3. "Candle in the Wind" (Instrumental Version)"   4:28

Personnel[edit]

All titles:[11]

Additional musicians on "Rocket Man":[11]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1991–1992) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart[12] 12
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[13] 2
Dutch Single Top 100[14] 27
Dutch Top 40[15] 22
French SNEP Singles Chart[16] 45
German Singles Chart[5] 36
Irish Singles Chart[6] 17
Swiss Singles Chart[17] 20
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[18] 11

David Fonseca version[edit]

"Rocket Man"
Single by David Fonseca
from the album Dreams in Colour
Released 2007
Format Digital download, Radio
Recorded 2007
Genre Soft rock
Length 4:38
Label Universal Records
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
David Fonseca singles chronology
"Superstars"
(2007)
"Rocket Man"
(2007)
"Kiss Me, Oh Kiss Me"
(2007)
Music video
"Rocket Man" on YouTube

The Portuguese singer David Fonseca released his version of the song as a single in Portugal reaching #12 in the Portuguese Top 20. The song, full title "Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)" also appears on David Fonseca's third album Dreams in Colour released in 2007 and on the Dreams in Colour: Tour Edition released in 2008. The music video was directed by David Fonseca himself.[19] Fonseca also regularly performs the single live in his concerts.[20]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2007) Peak
Position
Portuguese Singles Chart (Top 20) 12

Other cover versions[edit]

  • Hank Marvin did an instrumental of the song on his 1993 album Heartbeat.
  • The Nixons performed the song regularly at concerts and included a studio-recorded version on their 1999 EP Scrapbook.
  • On the radio show This American Life episode "Classifieds" (2002), a group of amateur musicians who had been found through their classified ads were brought together for one day to rehearse and record "Rocket Man" in a studio. The free MP3 is available online.[23]
  • Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips and Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer released a cover of the track "Rocket Man" for the soundtrack of the 2009 documentary "The Heart is a Drum Machine." The song was released for digital download from the iTunes Store on 15 October 2010. The track can also be heard on Puscifer's website with the title "Rocket Mantastic."[24]
  • Singer/rapper Mike Posner recorded a cover for his mixtape, The Layover, featuring a rap verse from Bun B.
  • Texas Country singer Charlie Robison performed "Rocketman" on his 2013 Album "Live at Billy Bob's Texas"

Use in other media[edit]

"Rocket Man" has frequently been used in filmmaking and television production.

  • In the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in episode "The Friendship Contraction" (season 5, episode 15), Howard Wolowitz uses the song for his ring tone in an attempt to get the other astronaut giving him nickname "Rocket Man" but finally fails. And in the episode "The Re-Entry Minimization" (season 6, episode 4), Howard sings the song when he is alone after his return from space.
  • The Norwegian company Statoil also used the song for one of their commercials, part of the song being covered by Silje Gulbrandsen Hagen and the latter part sung by Elton John.[27]
  • In the song "Home Life" by John Mayer, he sings "I am not a rocket man," a reference to the song.
  • When Sir Elton John and fellow singer-pianist Billy Joel tour together, their concerts are often billed as "Rocket Man Meets Piano Man," the latter being a reference to one of Joel's well-known hits.
  • A television commercial for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat features the song, with people mistaking the chorus lyric "burning out his fuse up here alone" for other similar sounding words such as "burning out this useless telephone." The mondegreen is meant to highlight the clarity of the speakers in the automobile.[28]
  • In the computer game World of Warcraft, a large rocket is under construction at the town of Area 52 (an obvious pun on Area 51). Occasionally, a non-player character called "Experimental Pilot" walks up to one of the workers and a conversation starts between the two, the dialogue being based on the lyrics to the song Rocket Man.[29]
  • The 2003 version of "Rocket Man" was featured in the series finale of Californication.
Preceded by
"Working Class Hero" by John Lennon
Q magazine british-year song
1972
Succeeded by
"Heroes" by David Bowie

References[edit]

  1. ^ On "David Bowie BBC Sessions 1969-1972", Bowie is clearly heard calling out "Oh, Rocket Man!"
  2. ^ http://www.berniejtaupin.com/discography.bt
  3. ^ Schmoop.com, Rocket Man, Lyrics, [1] Accessed 2014-7-12
  4. ^ "Chart Stats - Elton John - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "charts-surfer.de search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  6. ^ a b "irishcharts.ie search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  7. ^ "I singoli più venduti del 1972" (in Italian). 
  8. ^ "allmusic (Elton John > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". Retrieved 18 February 2009 (2009-02-18).  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  9. ^ "norwegiancharts.com - Elton John - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  10. ^ "The Observer - The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  11. ^ a b "back side of single sleeve". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  12. ^ "Chart Stats - Kate Bush - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  13. ^ "australian-charts.com - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  14. ^ "dutchcharts.nl - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  15. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 3, 1992 (Dutch)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "lescharts.com - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  17. ^ "Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) - hitparade.ch". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  18. ^ "allmusic (Kate Bush > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". Retrieved 18 February 2009 (2009-02-18).  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  19. ^ David Fonseca music video of "Rocket Man"
  20. ^ David Fonseca live performance of "Rocket Man" at the Sudoeste 2008 festival[dead link]
  21. ^ Davies, Sophie (26 January 2008). "Man of Enterprise - Times Online". The Times (London). Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  22. ^ "Sax All Night overview". Allmusic.com. 
  23. ^ http://podcast.thisamericanlife.org/special/223_RocketMan.mp3
  24. ^ : : : puscifer : : :
  25. ^ Listen: Elton John and Matthew Morrison Team Up for 'Rocket Man' Mashup on PopEater; Fisher, Kelly (19 April 2011)
  26. ^ "Paul And Storm - Rocket Man (with Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick, Hank Green, MC Frontalot)" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-OSIrtJgS0
  27. ^ "Morgenutgaven - Morgendagens helter (Norwegian)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  28. ^ "The Rocket Man is burning out something, I'm just not sure what". Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  29. ^ "Experimental Pilot - NPC - World of Warcraft". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 

External links[edit]